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Premier League 'wins' pub satellite TV copyright battle

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Beer pumps in a pub

© Rex Features

The Premier League is claiming victory against the importers of foreign satellite TV decoders in a high-profile copyright court battle.

Some British pubs purchase satellite systems from other parts of the European Union, in order to offer Premier League football at a much cheaper cost than Sky and ESPN.

The High Court has now said that the league can take action against the pubs on grounds of breach of copyright. But the satellite TV firms claim that they are still free to continue offering their services.

The Premier League took out a civil action against digital box provider QC Suppler and publican SR Leisure Limited, but the case was put on hold in the UK after it was referred to the European Court for legal advice.

The case was heard alongside the legal action of pub landlady Karen Murphy, who had bought a Greek satellite TV service using a QC decoder to use in her pub in Southsea.

In a landmark ruling last October the European Court of Justice said that national laws prohibiting the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards were "contrary to the freedom to provide services and cannot be justified either in light of the objective of protecting intellectual property rights or by the objective of encouraging the public to attend football stadiums".

However, the court also said that any opening video sequences, the Premier League anthem and pre-recorded highlights or graphics were "works" and so to show them in a pub would require permission from the Premier League.

Premier league logo
Following the ruling, the High Court said that importers of foreign satellite equipment had breached the Premier League's copyright by allowing pubs to show foreign broadcasts.

But Lord Justice Kitchin said that the league had only proved its claims of breach of copyright "to a limited extent".

"The defendants who are continuing to trade must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids infringement of [Premier League] copyright if they are able to do so," Kitchin said in the judgment.

Nick Noble, a Premier League spokesman, said that the judgement was "consistent with the ECJ ruling", adding: "The law gives us the right to prevent the unauthorised use of our copyrights in pubs and clubs when they are communicated to the public without our authority."

In a statement, the league added: "We will now resume actions against publicans who are using European Economic Area foreign satellite systems to show Premier League football on their premises unlawfully and without our authority."

But Anand Pattani, the lawyer representing QC Leisure and other defendants, told BBC News that the judge had "dismissed" the majority of league's claims against his clients.

"Our clients are extremely pleased that, in line with the finding of the European Court, the judgment confirms that the majority of claims against our clients are to be dismissed," he said.

"Insofar as there has been a finding of infringement relating to a limited number of artistic works our clients also welcome Lord Justice Kitchin's confirmation that they must be entitled to carry on their business in a way which avoids any such infringement."

Karen Murphy's case is due to be heard in the High Court later this year.

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